For the second year in a row, Virginia football Coach Bronco Mendenhall has his team set to play in a postseason bowl game. Despite losing three of their last four games, the Cavaliers (7-5, 4-4 ACC) enter bowl candidacy with one more win than they did last year, when they were slated to play Navy in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md.
With a better record and a relatively weak ACC selection pool, the Cavaliers have a possibility to reach a Tier I ACC Bowl — a step up from last year’s secondary Military Bowl. There is far from a guarantee this will happen, but to clear up some possibilities, we dive into the bowl selection process to look at where Virginia could end up.
ACC Bowl Selection Landscape
This season, the ACC has 11 teams that have reached the six wins necessary to clinch a bowl birth — including Notre Dame, a non-ACC team that is always granted an ACC Bowl game if eligible. The league will get an 12th team eligible if Virginia Tech defeats Marshall next week in a recently scheduled game.
Of these teams, the No. 3 Fighting Irish and No. 2 Clemson will likely head to the College Football Playoff to play for a national championship. The next likely destination for an ACC team will be the Camping World Bowl, which gets the first choice for an ACC team after the Playoff and the prestigious New Year’s Six bowls. Camping World is likely to select Syracuse or NC State – both of whom lost only three games this season — to fill their ACC slot, with the other heading to a Tier I Bowl.
Four ACC teams will play in a Tier I Bowl, of which five games could be chosen — the Pinstripe Bowl in New York, N.Y.; the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.; the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.; the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas; or the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. The second team to take a Tier I Bowl beyond Syracuse or N.C. State will likely be Pittsburgh, who won the ACC Coastal over Virginia.
Virginia Tech — if eligible — and Wake Forest will likely fall to secondary bowl games with only six wins. That leaves Virginia, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Duke and Miami to vie for two Tier I slots, with the rest falling to secondary bowls.
Where is Virginia likely to end up when the dust settles? Our staff gives their predictions and rationales for Virginia’s bowl location, taking into account how the rest of the dominos will fall.
Alec Dougherty, Senior Editor
Prediction: Belk Bowl vs. South Carolina
I’m giving Virginia the edge over Miami and Duke — whom they defeated this season — and Boston College to seize a Tier I Bowl, and keeping them close to home in Charlotte. Geography plays a role in the bowl selection process — likely a factor in Virginia’s placement in Annapolis last season — and Belk would get a good Cavalier faithful presence by picking a team from Virginia. There has been considerable buzz about Virginia attending the Belk Bowl, with the well-connected News & Observer sportswriter Joe Giglio slating the Cavaliers there per his sources. As for opponent ACC draws an SEC foe in the Belk Bowl, and South Carolina (6-5, 4-4 SEC) seems like a logical pick. The Gamecocks have had a rollercoaster of a season, but have played ranked teams hard behind the solid quarterback play of junior Jake Bentley. The game would be an entertaining matchup of spirited southern schools.
Jake Blank, Senior Editor
Prediction: Sun Bowl vs. Arizona State
I’m also predicting a Tier I bowl for the Cavaliers. I believe their national fan base and relative novelty amongst bowl eligible teams will make them an attractive selection. While the Sun Bowl in is not located in a spot particularly dense with Virginia alumni, none of the other teams up for consideration are either. The Sun Bowl will is also required to select a team from the Pac-12. I predict they’ll take Arizona State (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12), an intriguing matchup for Virginia junior quarterback Bryce Perkins. Perkins originally attended Arizona State, before transferring to junior college after a neck injury. The Sun Devils are a among other prognosticators for the Sun Bowl, and much like the Cavaliers, have found themselves consistently in close contests — nine of their games have been decided by less than a score. A bowl game between the two teams would likely be a tight and high-scoring affair — something I’m sure Virginia fans could get behind.
Ben Tobin, Managing Editor
Prediction: Military Bowl vs. Temple
I’m going to be more pessimistic than Alec and Jake and predict that Virginia makes a Tier II bowl game. The Cavaliers played brilliantly for the first two-thirds of the season, going 6-2 and becoming ranked for the first time since 2011. But given this strong start and the ACC Coastal Division hype the team received, the 1-3 end to the season and the third-place finish in the ACC Coastal will knock the Cavaliers down to a worse bowl game. With that in mind, I think Virginia will once again be slated to play in the Military Bowl on Dec. 31. Yes, Cavalier fans probably don’t want to hear that, given Virginia’s embarrassing 49-7 loss to Navy last year. However, I could see the bowl selection committee wanting to put Virginia in game close to its fanbase and liking the storyline of the Cavaliers searching for redemption. I’m guessing that the American Athletic Conference team will be Temple (8-4, 7-1 AAC), given the Owls’ proximity to Annapolis and their success in the conference this year.
Zach Zamoff, Senior Associate Editor
Prediction: Quick Lane Bowl vs. Minnesota
I’m also predicting a Tier II bowl for Virginia because the Cavaliers weren’t able to eke out the close games this year and pick up big wins needed to make a Tier I bowl game. While their 7-5 record is an improvement from last year, their weak non-conference schedule makes it difficult to justify them in a Tier I bowl. In particular, their close losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech will make it tough for them to enter into Tier I territory, even if they do have the edge over Duke and Miami. Despite losing its last three, Boston College should also have the nod over Virginia for a Tier I because they had a tougher schedule and have the same record as the Cavaliers. This is going to make it difficult for Virginia to enter Tier I territory, although I think it’s certainly possible given how close the Cavaliers’ last two losses were. Given these circumstances, however, I think the Quick Lane Bowl would be a good fit with Virginia. The Cavaliers, having already competed in the Military Bowl last year (it’s unlikely for teams to repeat bowls in consecutive years), are primed for a matchup against a Power 5 opponent. The Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit will be a matchup of two programs on the rise. Minnesota Coach P.J. Fleck and his Gophers (6-6, 3-6 Big Ten) just defeated Wisconsin with their “Row the Boat” mantra, and Coach Mendenhall’s Cavaliers continue to make steps in the right direction. Virginia has a chance to show program progress in this contest, which should be very winnable for the Cavaliers.